01/30/2013 00:24 EST | Updated 03/31/2013 05:12 EDT

PQ says Liberals knew Gentilly-2 would have to close

The Parti Québécois government has accused the former Liberal government of promising to keep open the Gentilly-2 nuclear plant in a bid to win votes in the run-up to last fall's election — despite knowing that refurbishing the 29-year-old reactor no longer made economic sense.

"There's been a major shift in energy markets in North America," Hydro-Québec president Thierry Vandal explained at the national assembly hearing into the plant's future yesterday. "It's called shale gas."

Vandal said shale gas development in the US has forced North American electricity prices way down, and those lower gas costs are the biggest single factor behind the utility's recommendation to decommission Gentilly-2.

Nuclear power simply can't compete, especially when refitting Quebec's only remaining plant would cost $3 billion.

Vandal said the former Liberal government was aware of the economic picture before the September 2012 election.

But with thousands of direct and indirect jobs on the line in and around Bécancour, where the plant is located, the PQ natural resources minister, Martine Ouellet, said the Charest government tried to fan hopes Gentilly-2 would be saved in order to save Liberal seats in the region.

"The Liberal Party was certainly informed about the fact that they were thinking about closing Gentilly II," agreed CAQ natural resources critic François Bonnardel. "So, I really think the Liberal Party didn't tell the truth."

However interim Liberal leader Jean-Marc Fournier said Hydro-Québec never made it clear Gentilly 2 was unaffordable until it released a report late last fall, long after the election in which the Liberals lost.

"Never I saw on the table in cabinet a discussion or document on that," Fournier said. "Never."

The Liberals contend that shale gas is a controversial source of energy that could face its own challenges in the future, making nuclear power more attractive once again.